Newin Chidchob: The kingmaker of Thai politics returns as election looms
Although officially out of politics, Newin Chidchob appears to be playing the role of kingmaker for prime ministerial candidate Anutin Charnvirakul from the coalition Bhumjaithai Party.
Newin took the same role in December 2008 after defecting from the camp loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to help the rival Democrat Party form a new coalition government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Newin was not rewarded with a seat in Abhisit’s Cabinet, but his political allies were handed coveted ministerial portfolios, including Transport and Interior.
Working behind the scenes
Newin apparently preferred a behind-the-scenes role, rather than coming to the fore and exposing himself to political attacks — as had happened when he worked for Thaksin and after he switched sides.
At that time, he was the leader of the so-called “Friends of Newin Group” and a key figure in a new political party named Bhumjaithai. Established in November 2008, the party consisted mostly of politicians and ex-MPs from Thaksin’s proxy People Power Party, which had been dissolved by court order in December that year.
Newin’s famous parting words for Thaksin were “It’s over, Boss” – for which he and Bhumjaithai were accused of treachery and ingratitude towards their former ally.
The veteran politician was a senior Bhumjaithai member between 2008 and 2012, but has retained his influence over the party, which is the second-largest in the ruling coalition led by Palang Pracharath.
Newin is viewed as the party’s patriarch. Party leader Anutin and other Bhumjaithai politicians often refer to him as “Khru Yai” or the headmaster.
The 64-year-old has supposedly washed his hands off politics and turned his focus to managing Buriram United Football Club, which he has served as chairman since September 2009.
At his October 4 birthday party, held in his sporting empire in the Northeast province, Newin vowed to help Anutin — currently deputy prime minister and public health minister — to become prime minister after the next general election.
He predicted that Bhumjaithai would win no fewer than 120 seats in the 500-MP House of Representatives at the next national vote, which would put the party in a strong position to play a leading role in forming the next government.
“As the Khru Yai of Bhumjaithai, I will do my best to help Anutin become the next prime minister. If I fail, I will no longer play the role of Khru Yai,” Newin declared during his birthday celebrations.
Strong contender for anti-Thaksin voters
Political pundits view Bhumjaithai as the “best option” for supporters of the current coalition government who do not want to see a Thaksin proxy return to power.
Bhumjaithai is expected to fare strongly at the next election, which has been tentatively scheduled for May 7. It has managed to lure several incumbent MPs away from other parties, boosting its chance of winning more House seats at the next election than it did last time in March 2019.
As the election draws near, the party has adopted the motto “Poot Laew Tham”, which translates as “We Kept Our Words”. This refers mainly to its campaign promise to legalize cannabis.
Political observers generally agree that the recent legalization of ganja boosted Bhumjaithai’s popularity among voters despite criticism over the government’s failure to control the recreational use of the herb.
Named after a strongman
Born in Buri Ram on October 4, 1958, Newin was named after the late Myanmar strongman General Ne Win, who was then ruler of Thailand’s western neighbor.
Newin first entered politics in 1985 after being elected to Buri Ram’s provincial administrative organization at the age of 27.
He made it to national politics three years later after being elected as an MP for his home province. He later became part of the Group of 16 young politicians, many of whom have now become political heavyweights.
Newin joined Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) in 2004 and served as Prime Minister’s Office minister in Thaksin’s government. He was hit with a five-year ban from politics in 2007 along with other TRT executives after the party was dissolved by court order.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk